Shakhtar Donetsk 0-1 Barcelona- Magical Messi goal ensures Barcelona progress
They may have begun the evening with a 5-1 deficit against the mighty Barcelona and they may have been facing some of the world’s best players again but the Ukrainian side will be proud of their efforts, despite the loss. All that separated Shakhtar and Barcelona was a superb goal from Lionel Messi, incredibly his 48th of the season. For Shakhtar, this year’s progress was a sign mass Brazilian importation can succeed at the highest level and for Barcelona, surely Real Madrid waits in the last four.
Shakhtar entered the game having only lost once at their current stadium, home since 2008. And one could see why. Despite being four goals down, the Donbass Arena was a sea of black and orange at the beginning of the game, reflecting the supporter’s belief in their side. The Ukrainian’s starting line-up also echoed their no surrender attitude. They began with an attacking Brazilian quartet of Jadson, Willian, Luiz Adriano and Douglas Costa to begin their onslaught against a weakened Barcelona defence. Indeed, Costa and Jadson threatened early on but Victor Valdes was equal to their efforts. Had he not been, Shakhtar may well have gathered more momentum to give Barcelona a true scare.
Barcelona were visibly shaken, if not wary, of Shakhtar’s strong start. Yet Gerard Pique, the most competent defender of Barcelona’s back four, held his side together, calmly doing the job he performs so well by breaking up Shakhtar’s advances and using his distribution skills to launch Barcelona’s attacks. Pique was compelled to use both sides of his game as Barcelona visibly lacked playmaker Andres Iniesta, suspended from the previous leg. However, his absence allowed Lionel Messi to flourish and he scored his 48th goal this season. Not receiving the usual service from the midfield, Messi dropped deep and carried the ball forward himself in his typical trickery fashion, utilising team mates when needed. And thus the night’s goal arrived with Messi receiving a pass from Dani Alves, he broke into the penalty area, his low sense of gravity allowed him to ride the challenges and hit an excellent finish past the goalkeeper. In a match where Barcelona weren’t at their magical best, it had to be Messi to revive them.
Barcelona are now be in the semi-finals, as expected but there is still much work to be done if they are to beat a rigid Real Madrid. Carlos Puyol is unknown as to whether he will be back for the likely El Clasico semi-final and Eric Abidal faces lengthy time on the sidelines due to his tumour and Shakhtar showed last night how much Barcelona miss the defensive pair. Very few sides experience the amount of times Shakhtar were allowed to test the ability of Valdes, worryingly for Barcelona riding past the usually reliable Javier Mascherano and exposing the gaps left void by midfielder Sergio Busquests partnering Pique at the back. Barcelona won on aggregate comprehensively, but there is still work to be done.